The art of Steaming and Frothing Milk

Why & When Steaming and Frothing Milk became an art? There’s a theory that France had a better coffee reputation than England purely due to its more plentiful, richer milk.

At least that was the case during the 1700s. Today, the world’s largest coffee chains spend more money on milk than on coffee.

So which milk complements coffee the best? For brewing, filtered coffee, experts say cream with higher fat content, sometimes called 18 percent cream, light cream, or coffee cream tastes best.

Milk—even whole milk—has considerably less fat content, so you need more of it to deliver the same taste combination.

Soy milk acts similarly to whole milk. Non-dairy coffee creamers, with their high sodium content, were designed to counteract the taste of harsh, cheaper Robusta coffee.

Espresso milk-based beverages, such as cappuccinos and lattes, taste best when made with rich, full-fat milk. In these drinks, the choice of milk improves more than just flavor.

Milk’s fat actually causes it to stretch during frothing and allows it to reach the best consistency, a great virtue in cappuccinos and lattes.

Steaming and Frothing Milk

Perfectly frothed and steamed milk for espressos is as important as a perfect shot. Even the most die-hard purist can’t resist the taste and viscosity of a perfectly made cappuccino.

I purposefully separated this article from the cappuccinos because it’s a different art form.

I also chose to focus on drinks that anyone with a good home espresso machine could make. Though a commercial machine may feature a more powerful steam wand, a home machine can produce frothed and steamed milk that’s just as good. I fully expect to be wowed by the drinks you make after just a few practices run.

How to Steam Milk Using a Steam Wand

Method N° 1. This steaming technique heats the milk without frothing it. Fill the stainless-steel pitcher two-thirds full of milk for steaming. There are two schools of thought regarding temperature:

Most coffee enthusiasts prefer to begin with ice-cold milk refrigerated in the pitcher. Others prefer using milk at room temperature. Either way works and is a personal preference.

Insert a cooking thermometer into the pitcher. Holding the pitcher by its handle, place it under the steam wand or jet. Always make sure the machine is full of steam before you place the nozzle in the pitcher.

Begin by burying the steam nozzle deep down, near the bottom of the pitcher, and steam, taking care not to scald the milk. Raise the steam nozzle and keep it barely immersed at the top edge of the milk.

As the foam begins to build, move the nozzle upward with the swelling height of the steaming milk. Turn off the steam wand when the thermometer registers 150° to 170°F (65° to 77°C).

A simple rule to follow is that if the metal pitcher is too hot to hold comfortably for more than a second, then the milk will be too hot and will taste bad.

Tap or gently bang the metal pitcher on the counter to get rid of the air. What’s left will be thick, creamy milk that looks like whipped cream. Remember: Never re-steam the milk.

How to Froth Milk Using a Steam Wand

Method N° 2. This frothing technique uses 6 to 7 ounces (170 to 190 ml) of milk to make two cappuccinos.

  • Fill the stainless-steel frothing pitcher one-third full of milk for frothing.
  • Insert a cooking thermometer into the pitcher (you could also use the clip-on variety).
  • Hold the pitcher by its handle; place it under the steam wand or jet.
  • Position the tip of the steam wand just beneath the surface of the milk.
  • Open the steam valve fully. If the surface of the milk becomes violently turbulent, and big bubbles form, then
  • move the nozzle deeper into the liquid and turn down the steam a little.
  • Look for small, even bubbles. The goal is to aerate the milk to a satiny velvety texture.

The sounds you hear will be your navigation guide to correct frothing.

Wrong-way sound: If it sounds as if you are blowing bubbles through a straw, then it is incorrect. This bubble-bath-like foam will quickly deflate.

The sound signals that the steam wand is not positioned deeply enough in the milk and that you do not have enough steam pressure.

Right-way sound: A deep-down serious rumbling sound is correct. The milk should also be increasing in volume. Froth the milk until it has doubled in volume (the pitcher should be hot to the touch).

Turn off the steam when the temperature hits 140°F (60°C). The temperature will continue to rise after you remove the wand from the milk.

The maximum temperature should be 160°F (71°C). Frothed milk will be a few degrees cooler than steamed milk since it incorporates air.

Wipe the nozzle thoroughly with a hot, clean, damp cloth. With your hands safely clear, turn the steam valve on to flush and clear out any milk in the wand.

Remember: Never re-froth the milk, ever! It contains too much-condensed water for good results. Never bring the milk to over 160°F (71°C). It will boil the milk, which will not be as sweet and may even have a burnt flavor.

Electric Steam Espresso

This machine looks like a home espresso machine should. It has a steam wand, a device that’s not used to brew coffee but rather to steam and froth milk.

Because the majority of people drink espresso in cappuccinos and lattes, you may consider getting one of these if you’re on a budget (and don’t really want espresso as much as a strong milk-frothed café latte drink).

The coffee can taste quite good, but as espresso, it lacks the tight foam of a well-made commercial shot and the creamy tight bubbles associated with the best cappuccino or latte art.

Advantages: Decent retail price, some companies’ innovations produce surprisingly good near-espresso.
Disadvantages: The majority of steam machines over-extract and make bitter espresso-style drinks, okay milk foam.

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